August 16, 2013

SPRINGFIELD (Aug. 16)—Gov. Pat Quinn has signed House Bill 3255, the so-called “Parade Bill” that allows communities to bar public parades and processions from crossing busy railroad tracks.

The bill was suggested by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board after a Union Pacific freight train struck a parade float in Midland, Tex., last November 15, leaving four passengers on the float dead and five seriously injured.

All of the casualties were Iraq War veterans being celebrated by the community for their overseas service.

“As soon as we learned about the Midland tragedy we resolved that nothing like it must ever be allowed to happen in Illinois,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy. “It’s something that parade participants, public-safety officials and train crews should never have to experience.”

Following the Midland tragedy, the Board drafted legislative language allowing municipal officials in Illinois to deny parade permits if the route specified crossed “active” railroad tracks at grade.

“We did not specifically call for a statewide ban on parades crossing railroad tracks,” Guy said. “Historically, the permitting of parades and demonstrations has been a matter for local authorities, and we wanted local authorities to retain those powers. All the legislation did was allow those authorities to withhold a permit if they thought safety would be compromised in any way, for any portion of a proposed parade route that called for crossing a live railroad track.”

The legislation was introduced in the House March 19 by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines) and in the Senate May 15 by State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Staunton). Both chambers passed the bill unanimously.

“The Board is deeply grateful to both of these sponsors for stepping up and promoting H.B. 3255, and we are equally grateful to all the UTU members who contacted their state representatives and senators and asked for a ‘Yes’ vote,” Guy said.

Guy said passage of the legislation is likely to raise awareness of grade-crossing hazards among public-safety officials and elected leaders in communities along key railroad lines.

“It is an unfortunate fact that many Americans do not yet understand just how busy the nation’s railroads have become since the industry was deregulated in 1980,” Guy said. “Railroad tracks that once lay dormant or saw perhaps one train a day at 20 miles per hour now are busy with long, heavy freight trains that roll through small towns several times a day at increased speeds.”

Guy said that in a state like Illinois, with so many busy main lines converging on the continent’s railroad center in Chicago, allowing slow-moving processions and long strings of floats to cross the tracks no longer can be deemed acceptable without proper safety precautions.

“The Union Pacific line between Chicago and St. Louis alone has more than 400 grade crossings—more than one every mile,” he said. “Intermodal service on the line is ramping up, and Amtrak already is going 110 miles per hour.

“It was time to change the way the public interacts with the tracks, and hopefully we have done that,” he said. “I believe H.B. 3255 will be a tool that saves lives and will help ensure that no operating crew here has to endure and experience what our brothers in Texas went through.”